A few months ago, Barry O’Dell, editor of Fulton County Gospel News, asked me to write an article on the role of women in the Church. He specifically asked that I answer the follow question: So What Can Women Do? The article is in the current paper issue. You can use the above hyperlink to read past articles and to subscribe to this paper.
So What Can Women Do?
Scripture is clear in teaching the concept of male spiritual leadership. Male spiritual leadership is a concept that takes root in the earliest pages of the Old Covenant based on the principle of the firstborn. Notice the language of Exodus 13:1-2, “The LORD said to Moses, “Consecrate to me all the firstborn. Whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is mine.”1 God claims ownership of every firstborn of both man and animal.
Turning to Numbers 3:5-10 we read,
“And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Bring the tribe of Levi near, and set them before Aaron the priest, that they may minister to him. They shall keep guard over him and over the whole congregation before the tent of meeting, as they minister at the tabernacle. They shall guard all the furnishings of the tent of meeting, and keep guard over the people of Israel as they minister at the tabernacle. And you shall give the Levites to Aaron and his sons; they are wholly given to him from among the people of Israel. And you shall appoint Aaron and his sons, and they shall guard their priesthood. But if any outsider comes near, he shall be put to death.”
Aaron was the firstborn and his sons would follow him as priests. The next two verses point out that the tribe of Levi would be the surrogate firstborn for all the people and belonged to the Lord for leadership and service in worship to Him.
Today, Christ serves as our High Priest (cf. Heb 4:14-15) having that responsibility as the Firstborn of God (cf. Rom 8:29). Paul calls Christ the “Firstborn of all creation . . . the Firstborn from the dead (cf. Col 1:15, 18). As God’s Firstborn, Christ is the Passover Lamb keeping Satan from destroying His children (cf. Heb 11:28). Jesus has the rule as the head of the Body, His church by virtue of His status as The Firstborn. He offered the sacrifice of Himself for her and rules as Lord of lords.
But what does the firstborn principle have to do with male spiritual leadership? The apostle Paul equates the order of creation with firstborn in 1 Timothy 2:13, “For Adam was formed first, then Eve;”. LaGard Smith surmises that as first created or first born that Adam being aware of the law about eating the fruit “bore the responsibility for two sins – his sin of eating the fruit and his sin in failing to exercise spiritual headship.”2
According to Smith, Scripture clearly teaches male spiritual leadership in the Lord’s church and in the home yet, headship in Scripture is not so much an honor as it is a responsibility of service. After Adam and Eve sinned, this headship becomes part of the punishment of man. Men need to be aware of our responsibility for the spiritual well-being of our family and the Lord’s church. Woe to the man who shirks that responsibility!
Our dilemma over women’s role results from a worldview that looks at leadership as authority and not a Biblical view of leadership as service. Likewise, the dilemma results from an over-emphasis on what occurs at the assembly over the everyday life of believers. I agree with the following quote from Joyce Hardin as relayed by Dave Miller, “The time has come to stop looking at those things women cannot do and emphasize instead those areas in which she can serve . . . to (God’s) glory.”3 This truth is found as we understand the Greek words diakanos, doulos, and oiketes (meaning deacon, slave, servant) are not gender specific, but apply equally to male and female. All Christians are servants of Christ.
Women have a role in the life of the church, they are not regulated to the sidelines of the life of the church. Jesus’ own genealogy in Matthew 1 includes five women – Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheeba, and Mary. Romans 16:1 mentions Phoebe as a servant (diakonos) of the church. In Acts we read of Pricilla and Lydia as prominent women and servants in the church. Paul tells Titus the older women are to teach the younger women and in Philippians 4:2-3 Paul calls Euodia and Synthyche by name telling the church (men included) to assist them in their ministry.
The question remains concerning what specific areas of ministry are open to women. What can women do? There are multiple areas of ministry open to women within the context of Scripture that encompass the greater scope of life in Christ. They are much of what Jesus calls the “weightier matters” (Cf. Mat 23:23).
Women can edify the church (Rom 14:19). Many women are natural encouragers. Throughout my life, from the time I was in Bible classes to my first attempts at directing singing, public prayer, reading scripture, and preaching, more women than men shook my hand, patted me on the shoulder, and told me how proud they were of what I did. I would not be who I am if not for their building me up.
Women can instruct and admonish the church (Rom 15:14). This is a vital role any woman can play. I can think of several women who have guided me in my youth; women who taught me scripture, and many who continually demonstrate the Spirit of Christ in their lives as they let the Word of Christ dwell in them (Col 3:16).
Paul tells all Christians “through love serve one another.” (Gal 5:13). Peter tells Christians to use their gifts to “serve one another.” (1Pe 4:10). Women serve by teaching children and youth. Women serve by caring for family and others. Women put men to shame in their willingness and ability to follow Christ and take up the towel of service. I know Christian ladies who see needs in the community and take care of those needs as a Christian. More than a few churches have a good reputation because of the women who have hearts for service. Men, we must help these women (Phil 4:3).
Much of that service is from a mindset of empathy; a mindset that bears the burdens of others (Gal 6:1-2). Women tend to have a greater capacity for compassion than men and outdo us in care for others. Many times, as I am at the home of family who is mourning loss, there are ladies from church already there helping by serving, listening, holding a hand, or organizing a ministry of care.
Women can pray. Every Christians has access to the Throne of God though our High Priest and we are to pray for one another (James 5:13). The country music chorus reminds us of the power of a godly woman’s prayer:
When Mama prayed, good things happened.
When Mama prayed, lives were changed.
Not much more than five foot tall
But mountains big and small crumbled all away
When Mama prayed.4
Women change lives and change the world with prayer answered by God.
Women can and do love. Jesus commanded that we love one another as He loved (John 15:12). Women love with a seemingly unlimited supply. They love with a genuine love in Christ that leads them to edify, instruct, admonish, teach, serve, bear burdens, and pray for others. Love seeks the best and works toward the best for others. Women can and do lead the church in love.
The allotted space does not allow for us to explore how women can practice forgiveness (Eph 4:32) or stirring up love and good works by togetherness (Heb 10:24-25). Still, we state in this article that the role of women in the church is much greater that the limited roles of corperate worship. My prayer and aim is that we do more to emphasize the work of women, and every Christian, in the world around us as well as the work we do for each other. As the adage says, “Enter to worship, leave to serve.”
Maybe that is the deeper meaning of Romans 12:1, “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.”5 These areas are our reasonable service to God. If we (men and women) neglect or de-emphasize them can our worship ever truly be acceptable to God?
The role of women in the Church is much greater than the limited roles of cooperate worship.
- Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright 2016 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, used by permission, all rights reserved.
- Smith, LaGard. Male Spiritual Leadership, (21st Century:Nashville) 1998, pp 41-42.
- Miller, Dave, “The Role of Women: The Exegesis of 1 Timothy 2:11-15,” Women to the Glory of God: Spiritual Sword Lectureship 1994, Jim Laws, ed. (Sain:Pulaski, TN) 1994, p 289.
- Overstreet, Paul L., Rory Lee, When Mama Prayed, (Ole Media Management:Nashville)
- The New Living Translation: NLT (Tyndale House:Carol Stream, Illinois) 2009.